For over 100 years, militaries from all over the world have been using aerial photography to acquire operational advantages over their enemies. What means exist today and what has changed over the years? From “Spitfire” aircraft over Damascus, through UAVs and to the F-35I “Adir”

Tal Giladi

The visual reconnaissance mission is divided to stills and video photography. “There is a difference between video surveillance and aerial photography. These are two separate abilities which allow us to focus on different things. Real time video surveillance allows us to make decisions while the aircraft is in the air and scanning an entire area. It helps us keep our reconnaissance updated, as some targets change their shape in minutes”, explained Maj. N’ from the Intelligence Directorate. “We use photos when there is a missing link, because it can capture an immense number of details in a split second which allow us to complete the intelligence image”.

The world of reconnaissance is also largely based on audio material, produced by different intelligence units in the IDF and in small quantities in the IAF as well. “We integrate the audio and visual materials in order to acquire all of the relevant information about our targets. The enemy understands that information about it is being collected, so the trick is staying two steps ahead. For us there is no limitation regarding arenas, nowhere is to far” said Maj. N’.

Aerial Photography in the Modern Battlefield

Adapting Systems to Needs
“In practice, we receive relevant information and research questions, to which we fit the existing visual reconnaissance systems. We map the need and choose the relevant sensor from our aerial systems for it. For example, tracking a car which is changing its  location will require video surveillance, identifying the color of a specific object requires color photography and if there is a need to identify small details, we will choose stills photography”.

It is impossible to discuss visual reconnaissance without referring to the advantage it has to the world of DA (Damage Assessment) the practice of assessing the operational outcomes of an attack sortie. This is an entire field that leans totally on visual reconnaissance, because the assessment is conducted by aircraft which photography the target. “Visual information about a target helps us be better acquainted with it and direct the aircrews in a precise attack, while minimizing collateral damage to the best of our abilities”.

Aerial Photography in the Modern Battlefield

Similar Systems, Different Products
The next step in the process is conducted by the squadrons that receive the missions. These missions are shared by fighter, UAV and reconnaissance squadrons, who each have their advantages. Similar systems are sometimes installed on different aircraft, but the products received are absolutely different. The differences in speed, height and carrying capacity between the aircraft, create a situation in which the same systems produce different products.

“Our cameras provide thermic and optic imagery and when they are installed on UAVs, that fly relatively slowly, we receive high quality and clear photos. This is of course joined by the fact that UAV missions do not endanger the lives of personnel and that UAVs can reach far places and stay in the air for long hours. There is an option to send the images in real time, but usually, when it comes to images, the data collected by the aircraft is unloaded upon its landing”, Lt. Adi, a UAV Operator, shared the advantages of the aircraft.

What does a photography mission look like? “The cameras are completely independent, they know how to turn on and off alone, and from what angle to shoot, so we barely operate them for photography. The products we produce are large, in relation to the effort entailed in producing them”.

Aerial Photography in the Modern Battlefield

Between the “Spitfire”, “Kochav” and “Adir”
In November 1948, IAF pilot Ezer Weizman performed, with his famous “Black Spitfire”, a photography sortie with the goal of capturing the al-Mazzah airport near Damascus and another airport on the Beirut-Damascus axis. A few years later, the light, wood built “Mosquito” aircraft were used for the same mission. It was the first to reach 30,000 feet and opened the door to photography of entire areas.

Since then and to this day, the world of aerial photography has developed. New cameras, based on advanced technology are expected to soon be integrated in the UAV Division and the “Kochav” (Hermes 900) UAV that was recently integrated in the IAF, will be able to carry a number of different cameras and introduce another breakthrough in the world of unmanned aerial reconnaissance. The “Adir” (F-35I) which will arrive in the IAF in December, will also carry new tidings. “The aircraft will have advanced and simultaneous reconnaissance abilities and it will be able to identify a number of things at once and perform quick sensor fusion. An additional ability that it will have is focused observation and quick deciphering that will shorten the amount of time the aircraft spends over the target”.

Aerial Photography in the Modern Battlefield